Tories cannot ignore Irish border question

Notes from the front of 29-11-2017

Tories cannot ignore Irish border question

The Tory government’s feigned shock and surprise that the issue of the Irish border remains a sticking-point in the Brexit negotiations is entirely fake. They have been repeatedly warned that it was one of the three key issues that need to be resolved, along with the reciprocal rights of EU and UK nationals as well as the ‘divorce bill’.


The Dublin government has a pressing interest in ensuring there is no return to a policed border in Ireland, given the enormous economic and political dislocation this would cause, including being in direct breach of the Good Friday Agreement (pdf). The EU negotiators have appeared to back this position throughout.

The Tories too have paid lip service to this position. But their position paper on how to achieve a ‘frictionless’ border in Ireland included reliance on electronic technology to distinguish goods in a truck that has yet to be invented and airborne zeppelins to film the border! Little wonder that the European negotiators did not take the paper seriously, and leaks suggest they do not believe it was offered in good faith.

The stated position of the Tories is that all matters, including the divorce bill, citizens’ rights and the Irish border should be subsumed into the general discussion about trade arrangements post-Brexit. In polite terms, this is disingenuous. A number of media outlets report that the UK Cabinet will itself not discuss its own aims in trade talks until the new year for fear of provoking an outright split between ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ Brexiteers. This is the clash between advocates of leaving and going onto WTO terms and those who argue for a ‘uniquely close relationship’ with the Single Market.

On both sides of the Cabinet, there is wilful self-delusion. Even WTO terms require rules, tariffs, international oversight and prohibitions against state aid, for example. At the same time, no country has a ‘uniquely close relationship’ with the EU that does not include abiding by single market rules on free movement of goods, capital, firms and people, overseen by the ECJ.

For its part, the DUP leadership fulminates against the Dublin government while itself meeting outlawed terrorist groups like the UDA. It too wants no hard border to protect its business interests, at the same time as aiming for ‘exactly the same’ relationship with the EU as Britain outside the Single Market and Customs Union. This is having your cake and eating it with a Union jack on top.


No British government should be able to reprise its age-old colonial disregard for the rights and prosperity of the Irish, and of course Labour should oppose any attempt to impose a solution. Sinn Féin has proposed that the North be given a derogation from Brexit (pdf). An ‘Isle of Man solution’, outside the EU but conforming to all its rules has also been suggested. This is the type of approach that is needed.